Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Insidiously Evil

What is the most insidiously evil product ever devised?

Ralph Nader might claim it's this one, although he's a bit kooky and the book he wrote on this product, which vaulted him to fame & fortune, is based on questionable analysis:

TheRaven thinks that while video (may have) killed the radio star, TV is definitely hypnotizing the developed world into ultimately deadly inactivity. What is the #1 enabler of slow, sedentary death? Some examples:

A piece in the New York Times tosses TheRaven's old nemesis into our candidate pool. It turns out that some high-ranking military officials also hold this product in contempt. Here's an example of how otherwise intelligent people are led astray by the seductive charms of PowerPoint:

Click image to see full-size (you don't want to miss this)

Quoth Marine General James N. Mattis: “PowerPoint makes us stupid

Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster says “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control

(Click the image to see what General Stanley McChrystal has to say)

The overall concern among senior military staff is that PowerPoint "stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making".
T.X. Hammes wrote a withering attack on PowerPoint which was published in the Armed Forces Journal (http://www.afji.com/2009/07/4061641). He rightly disparages PowerPoint as a decision support tool and provides context by noting its value is as an instruction tool, drawing a clear line between the needs of decision-makers and those of students: It can be useful in situations it was designed to support — primarily, information briefs rather than decision briefs. For instance, it is an excellent vehicle for instructors. It provides a simple, effective way to share high-impact photos, charts, graphs, film clips and humor that illustrate a lecturer’s points. Here, the bullet can function as designed by providing a brief, simple outline of the speaker’s material that facilitates note-taking and even (one hopes) student retention. Yet even in a classroom setting, it is not appropriate for developing a deep understanding of most subjects. For that, additional reading is required. There is a reason students cannot submit a thesis in PowerPoint format.
An article appearing in the Small Wars Journal (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2009/07/print/draft-draft-draftpowerpoint-1/) cites a leading expert: Dr. Edward Tufte of Yale University, an expert on information presentation who has participated in the accident investigation of both Space Shuttles, wrote extensively on the misuse of PowerPoint slides in NASA during the accident investigation board. Tufte had considerable issues with one slide in particular. The slide shows a huge contradiction between the title, in large font, and the actual text of the bullet-points, which is in small text. The title of the slide downplays the extent of the potential damage to the Space Shuttle, while the small text in the bullets however, indicate that the damage to the shuttle could potentially be significant, which it was. Tufte notes that, as information was passed up the chain, important details were omitted—details which stressed the potential for extreme damage to the Columbia’s wing, and ultimately, resulted in its destruction upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Notes Tufte: "As information gets passed up an organization hierarchy, from people who do analysis to mid-level managers to high-level leadership, key explanations and supporting information is fil­tered out. In this context, it is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation. At many points during its investigation, the Board was sur­prised to receive similar presentation slides from NASA offi­cials in place of technical reports. The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical com­munication at NASA".

The report on organizational causes of Columbia's failure (http://anon.nasa-global.speedera.net/anon.nasa-global/CAIB/CAIB_lowres_chapter7.pdf) notes that: "...at every juncture....the Shuttle Program's structure and processes, and therefore the managers in charge, resisted new information." PowerPoint only served to exacerbate NASA's dysfunctional management culture and lives were lost as a direct result.

TheRaven concludes that while TV remote controls are killing us slowly, PowerPoint's corruption of critical decision-making qualifies it as a truly evil product, exemplified by its contribution to epic American disasters. If your decision-making process relies on PowerPoint presentations, beware.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Risible Class II

Following up on our first Risible Class post, it's time for the Tea Party signage edition. What makes the Tea Party crowd such contemptible fools? Could it be their spelling?

This mom sure set an example on the importance of learning English.

Yup, people in Canada, Denmark & Sweden are revolting against state oppression!

Note to 'baggers: not only are some educated people armed, they have better taste in handguns.
Did she plan on sitting when she wrote the sign?

Obviously, an expert.

Why are racists stupid?

Belgium 1914? Dresden 1945? Poland? Russia? Where?

This is not a happy or funny post.

It's a guessing game about death and destruction.

If you know this history, you'll know why these pictures are best introduced with a series of questions about their provenance. Note the extensive devastation in this first shot (and the horse drawn carts).Is this Poland in 1939 or Belgium in 1914?
German troops perpetrated the Rape of Belgium over Aug-Sept 1914, burning villages to the ground and killing over 1,000 civilians. Germans then adopted the classic belligerent tactic of blaming their victims for the atrocities they were "forced" to commit. German atrocities inspired the free-world outrage expressed in this heavy-handed piece of propaganda:

Pretty snappy imagery, don't you think? The Allied soldier is suspended in a Christ-like pose while the 1915 version of Darth Vader is startled by America riding to the rescue. Study the poster carefully to appreciate its ability to inspire fear and loathing: the German is noticeably larger than his victim, whose feet dangle several feet above the ground. This conveys a sense of super-human strength which is, of course, rendered in evil tones. Germans deny freedom and liberty. Germans wantonly kill. Germans are evil.

This next shot could any one of the Belgian villages razed by German troops or even Leuven, which suffered the destruction of its university library.
The Germans displaced 40,000 people, looted Leuwen of food and industrial goods and killed 248 people, including the mayor and police force. Belgium had been guaranteed neutrality in an 1839 treaty with Prussia but exigencies of Germany's 1914 war plans made that treaty "a scrap of paper". German atrocities in Leuwen helped inspire this evocative image:

The next shot hints at the 20th century and extant building walls suggest Dresden after it was firebombed in 1945. Perhaps TheRaven is playing with you and all these images really date from WW2. Horses were used throughout the war, especially in Russia. Wartime destruction renders familiar places anonymous, wouldn't you agree?
The Dresden theme is repeated here with a solitary figure, perhaps taking a picture of total devastation. The man's head is down and he appears to be holding something, which suggests use of a early/mid century Rollei camera.

Each of these photos could be plausibly represented as documentation of war. Yet none of them were taken in Belgium, France, Germany, Russia, Poland or any other European participant of either WW1 or WW2.

All photos were taken in the American heartland, in the aftermath of an event that the subsequent, official investigative report called "the worst civil disturbance since the Civil War".

Welcome to Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 1, 1921. All photos presented above were obtained from the report. You've been looking at the destruction of what was, until May 31, 1921, a prosperous black community named Greenwood.

The report observes that the 1920 census under-counted Tulsa’s African-American community, but still notes that Greenwood included “…191 businesses. There were fifteen doctors, one chiropractor, and two dentists practicing in the district as well as three lawyers. This section of town contained a library, two schools, a hospital, and an office of the Tulsa public health services. Two news papers, the Tulsa Star and the Oklahoma Sun...” Blacks made up about 11% of Tulsa’s population and were clustered in Greenwood, which was a street-grid neighborhood about one mile long.

The incident began in typical fashion: a rumor fanned by a racist newspaper, a white mob and an inevitable, brutal lynching. What happened next sets Tulsa apart in the annals of racist brutality: a mob of roughly 2,000 whites set upon Greenwood with clear intent to destroy it. Blacks fought back and inflicted casualties but were severely outnumbered and eventually overwhelmed. Between 100 and 300 people died and the 1,256 houses, stores and structures in Greenwood were burned to the ground. The attackers employed several aircraft to drop incendiaries. Greenwood suffered exactly like Belgian villages in 1914, with white Oklahomans playing the role formerly taken by the Kaiser's murderous troops.

The report is exhaustive, compassionate, poignant and through no fault of the Commission that authored it, a monumental insult. The 1st and only report on the Greenwood atrocities is dated February 28, 2001. The magnitude and one-sided nature of death and destruction in Tulsa suggests that characterization as a “race riot” is at best, quaint. Greenwood wasn’t punished for being black; Greenwood was punished for being black and prosperous. In that context, the only appropriate description is pogrom.  

Despite all available evidence, no one was ever prosecuted for the hundreds of crimes committed in Tulsa on May 31 and June 1, 1921. Surviving victims were, however, promptly arrested. A grand jury later found that blacks were solely responsible for Greenwood's destruction. This may qualify Greenwood as the penultimate expression of Jim Crow brutality and violation of the Constitutional guarantees that Americans have fought to preserve for 223 years. Our last photo shows American soldiers who fought to defend liberty against German aggression in the Great War:

You don't have to believe TheRaven. Read the full report for yourself, here: http://www.okhistory.org/trrc/freport.htm

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Risible Class

Definition of risible

1. Relating to laughter or used in eliciting laughter.
2. Eliciting laughter; ludicrous.
3: Arousing or provoking laughter; especially laughable

Etymology: Late Latin risibilis, from Latin risus, past participle of ridere (to laugh)

Leaders of the Risible Class


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Muslim Brandishes an AK-47 in Michigan

From a New York Times follow-up to the Hutaree bust, we learn that Matt Savino and his father, Jim Gulliksen, left, are Michigan Militia members. Mr. Savino provided a tip that led the authorities to fugitive Hutaree militia members. Mr. Savino, 34, is currently unemployed and was an assistant manager at a GNC nutrition store. He is a Navy veteran who converted to Islam in the late 1990s and believes that he is the only Muslim in the militia.

Estimates of statewide Michigan militia membership range from several hundred people to 500 or more. Mr. Savino and his father, also a Navy Veteran and  the local militia chapter’s chief executive officer say they have worked to distinguish the group from its past. “My goal is to get the militia name clean,” said Mr. Gulliksen, 60, who works as a manager in the paint and hardware department at the local Wal-Mart.

Perhaps they could begin by understanding the AK-47’s history.

“AK-47” is shorthand for “Avtomat Kalashnikova” (Kalashnikov automatic rifle), model of 1947. Mikhail Kalashnikov began his career as a weapon designer while in a hospital recovering from a war wound. The Kalashnikov assault rifle model 1947 proved to be simple and reliable and was adopted by the Soviet Army in 1949. Low manufacturing costs enabled the Soviet Union to supply client states with the AK-47. The Cold War saw the mass export of AK-47s by the Soviet Union and Communist China to pro-communist countries and groups such as the Nicaraguan  Sandinistas and Viet Cong.

The weapon has appeared in a number of conflicts including clashes in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The AK-47 is now also made in Pakistan's semi-autonomous areas. The World Bank estimates that out of the 500 million total firearms available worldwide, 100 million are of the Kalashnikov family, and three-quarters of that number are AK-47s.

The AK-47 is included in the flags of Mozambique (left) and Hezbollah (below, yellow) and in Iranian Revolutionary Guards logo (below, blue) and has been used by nations and groups opposed to the United States, beginning with the Soviet Army, then Communist states during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The Soviet Union became the principal arms dealer to countries embargoed by the United States, including Syria, Libya and Iran. AK-47s have been more recently associated with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq and FARC guerrillas in Colombia.

Private ownership of fully automatic AK-pattern rifles was regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934. The Gun Control Act of 1968 ceased the import of foreign-manufactured fully automatic firearms for sale to civilians. An amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act in 1986 prohibited domestic manufacturing of fully automatic weapons for civilian use. Automatic weapons manufactured domestically prior to 1986 or imported prior to 1968 may be legally transferred between civilians.

The 1989 Semi-Automatic Rifle Import Ban and the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban specifically banned the AK-47 in the United States. When ban expired on September 13, 2004 due to Presidential inaction all domestically produced semi-automatic AK-47s became legal. The import of AK-47s with certain features is still banned. States such as California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have specific restrictions which effectively ban new purchases of many semi-automatic rifles.

Perhaps Mr. Savino and Mr. Gulliksen should ponder the 63 year history of the AK-47 and its use against United States armed services personnel in their quest to "get the militia name clean". They should reconsider their tacit endorsement of a weapon that appears on belligerent flags, as Mr. Savino appears in the picture holding a possibly made-in-America product that certainly represents anti-American hatred.

Proximate Cause

Governor McDonnell's pronouncement of Confederate History Month deserves unending scorn because he pandered to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other groups that are akin to holocaust deniers. His proclamation skipped over slavery as the underlying cause for war and was clearly aimed at a largely uneducated white majority. McDonell's outrage renders his subsequent apology unworthy of consideration.

Perpetrators of the great southern lie - for it is only in the south that we find those who trade in the "War of Northern Aggression" and related nonsense - suspend disbelief to argue every possible excuse. They either lack critical thinking skills or, blinded by other dogmas such as biblical literalism, suppress the very skills that serve their professional life to propagate coded racism. An example of "educated denialism" is synopsized here...http://georgiaheritagecouncil.org/site2/commentary/scruggs-causes-uncivil-war030607.phtml and background on the author (Mike Scruggs) can be found here..http://www.markwhiteusa.com/AboutUs.html.

There were many proximate causes of the Civil War and each one is threaded to one, and only one, central issue. The proof is a simple question: if slavery had not existed, would there have been a war? Among all proximate causes, my two favorites are: weak Federal treasury, exemplified by lack of a national currency; the out-sized influence of abolitionists on northern politics. The premise for the importance of these two factors is: the inseparability of slave labor with the southern economy; and, another simple question: what other country had a slavery problem, and how was it solved?

The central problem leading up to the war was political paralysis. The underlying disease was slavery. This is a cautionary tale for our current climate of instant polarization. Abolitionists succeeded in painting slavery with a brush dipped in pure moral tones. Southerners heard a quite different message. Slaves were not only the source of most southern income; they also comprised its largest asset class. Slaves were so important to the southern economy that an insurance market sprang up around them (http://www.insurance.ca.gov/0100-consumers/0300...). The southern ruling class heard a moral position and responded in kind, giving birth to the great southern lie.

The intractability of issue becomes clear if you consider how possible loss of slave capital was perceived to also imperil other forms of capital, such as the value of plantations, and that the southern ruling class was diametrically opposed to free labor. About the only thing more distasteful than the risk of losing slave capital was the notion of an empowered class of previously servile, poor whites. The southern ruling class viewed possible loss of virtually all of their capital and income through an narrow ideological prism. Proof of their pre-war view is found in their post-Reconstruction behavior. The slave economy was re-established in all but name and majority of whites lived the same disadvantaged existence as before the war.

In hindsight, Federal purchase and emancipation of southern slaves might have been a viable alternative. The southern ruling class would have lost their primary motivation to fight (loss of capital) and then, forced to negotiate on less ideological ground, the north would have been in better position to leverage southern white underclass resentment into a political force. Reasons why this couldn't happen include abolitionist success in framing the northern argument and a weak Federal treasury. It was the Civil War that enabled (or forced) creation of our national currency.

This isn't an exercise in "presentism". Northern politicians had a fresh example for possibly preempting war with purchase/emancipation. A successful national government program to do exactly that was concluded 20 years before South Carolina initiated hostilities. The British parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. The Act provided terms of government purchase for all slaves in Britain, but not in all British possessions. The British government funded a seven year purchase/emancipation with 20 million pounds. The Act took effect in 1834 and by 1841 slavery in Britain was history.

The two core differences in Britain's experience were: (1) acceptance of slavery's economic reality, as opposed to polarizing moral arguments; (2) a strong government treasury. The counter argument to this view is that slavery was less important to the British economy than it was in the American south. That's true and is illustrated by the Act's limitations. However, such view does not consider how a similar solution could have been adopted in America with, for example, a longer emancipation period. Plus, 20 million pounds wasn't exactly chump change in 1833. The British program shows that war wasn't necessarily a foregone conclusion.

In fairness to the reason why historic inquiry is so important, the "moral vs. economic" argument should also be studied in context of northern culture and subsequent events. With very few exceptions, Abolitionists were racist. Northern blacks were an intensely segregated northern minority and the notion of free blacks possibly moving north was an anathema to the northern majority. This was the period also characterized by intense animosity towards Irish immigrants. Fifty-two years after Appomattox, The Great War caused an unprecedented labor market vacuum that accelerated the Great Migration. White reaction in northern (or non-southern) states to growing black population mirrored southern atrocities. One can argue the southern-ness of Tulsa but few would call Detroit anything but northern.

The "moral vs. economic" argument is useful for widening the debate. It does not posit an alternative past in which peace could have been simply bought with a fat cheque. It does argue for complete inquiry, with all truths dragged into the light of day. Exploration of northern culture would provide necessary balance, however, the final conclusion would remain inescapable.

Slavery caused the war.

Mammoth Problem

What or who killed off the mammoth?
Theories include asteroids and hunting. There's no concrete proof on the first. Ice age hunters needed extraordinary motivation to kill mighty beasts with mere pointed sticks. TheRaven's keen study of modern human behavior has led to a breakthrough theory of the mammoth's demise. By impersonating a crow and studying behavioral differences between human males and females, TheRaven was able to extrapolate backwards to root cause.
The mammoth were doomed the minute humans invented language. Important to this theory is realization that women must have invented language. Men had pointing and grunting and, given modern male behavior during football season, it's quite clear that, without women, men would still be pointing and grunting. Before women had their linguistic eureka, the mighty male hunters usually sat around the fire, worrying about their place in history. With grunts and gestures.
"Oy! Are we mighty hunters or are we going to spend eternity killing rabbits?"
We should kill mammoths!"
(Ice age hunters, in fact, mostly hunted arctic hares and on that score, weren't so mighty).
Other hunters said...
 "Are you bleedin' mad?"
(Oddly, they gestured and grunted with British accents)
"All we have are these poxy sticks!"
During one such exchange, at the other fire, women invented language. When they realized they could communicate with more than grunts and gestures (which was always less suitable for women) they cast about for topics...
"Let's talk about our feelings!"
The women all looked at each other, instantly realizing the power of language to leverage their feelings into a prehistoric form of remote control.
"No, how about....relationships!".
Shock at the existence of relationships quickly gave way to realization of the ultimate man-control. Smiles and nods all around were slightly tinged with sadness as the women realized that, at least in a fashion context, being able to talk about shoes was a few years in the future.
The men weren't talking yet, but they weren't deaf. Not knowing exactly what feelings or relationships were (many still don't), but fearing the worst, they frantically gestured and grunted to find a way out of their new predicament ....
"Er...hunting mammoth takes a lot more time than hunting rabbits".
Questioning looks around the fire.
"Yeah, that's means we won't be around for (fearful and confused looks all around) feelings and relationships!" (terror stricken looks on all their faces).
They stared at their pointed sticks with desperate religious fervor.
"You know, if we all stab the mammoth at the same time....it might work!".
Much relieved at dodging the terror of feelings and relationships, not to mention learning how to speak, the hunters truly became mighty and laid waste to the mammoth.
With pointed sticks.

Dismal Science

Climate scientists only have themselves to blame for the growing denialist cacophony. The recent flap over climate data isn’t the reason. Rather, failure to invite economists to the climate party has left solution advocates bereft of their best possible weapon. Paul Krugman’s recent piece in the Times Sunday Magazine is hardly an auspicious entre. He hews to cap ‘n trade dogma in tones of a grade-school lecture. We’d do better if Cap ‘n Crunch led the fight. America’s fear of foreigners is ripe for exploitation towards development of exportable, carbon-free technologies.
From the beginning of the Holocene to 1950, the human population grew from close-to-nothing to 2.5 billion. From 1950 to 2050 - a mere 100 years (a geological eye-blink) - human population will grow at least another 6.5 billion people. Since global population is now 6.8 billion, it is virtually certain that 2050 will see 9+ billion people.
Along this time line we've seen an explosion of capitalism that spawned the biggest prosperity surge in human history. Every person on the planet who experiences a rising living standard uses more carbon. For example, meat is the first item purchased in larger quantities. You can't blame people for wanting to better feed their children. The big news is that most of world is just beginning to ramp up their carbon output.
China passed the US in total carbon emissions 2 years ago, yet China's per-capita GDP is only one-eighth the US (in purchasing power parity). India is much further back, with per-capita GDP less than one-half of China's and 800 million people (2.6 times the US population) living in poverty. What do you think happens when billions of poor people just slightly improve their living standard? Now consider what happens when the global middle class adds 2 billion people (7 times US population) over the next 20 years.
Global annual CO2 increase fell one-third in the early-90s recession. The current recession - which is far worse - hasn't dented CO2 output. Not a freaking scratch! The developing world is already driving the CO2 bus for a simple reason: developed nations account for only 10% of global population. The pace of global annual CO2 output has more than doubled over the past 50 years. Funnily enough, human population doubled over the same period.
We’re going to add a similar number of people over the next 40 years and they, along with most people already living, will become progressively larger consumers of carbon-based processes, like making electricity or growing beef. There are many things climate change denialists don't consider. My favorite is the global explosion in consumer finance. Twenty years ago you couldn't finance a motorcycle in Vietnam, get a mortgage in Brazil or get personal credit in Indonesia. While China gets all the bad press for air pollution, completed its national highway system ~10 years ahead of schedule and bought more new cars last year than we did (for the first time), replacement of bicycles with motorcycles in Hanoi (BTW, Vietnam has the same population as Germany), a Brazilian housing boom and Indonesian economic growth sparked by consumer credit are overlooked.
It isn’t us anymore. CO2 growth is global, rapidly-accelerating and apparently unstoppable. China's economy will double every 9 years at trend-line growth rates and India's will double every twelve. China offered a vague 20% carbon reduction at the last climate meeting. Do the math on the net increase in carbon output over the next 9 years. The last time CO2 was at present levels (388ppm), there was less global ice, seas were higher, northern Canada was a temperate forest and reptiles were a lot bigger. The blindingly simple truth about climate change is that: CO2 is a leading indicator; average temperature lags behind CO2; sea level lags behind temperature. Given population growth, the global prosperity explosion and CO2 levels that were last seen 30 million years ago, why is anyone surprised by rising temperatures and melting ice?
The funny thing about climate change denialists is that free market signals on climate change reality show up in many of their mailboxes, as higher insurance premiums or notices of canceled coverage. Liberty Mutual, Allstate, StateFarm & others have either walked away from lucrative markets, exponentially increased premiums, red-lined coastal markets, gotten in fights with state regulators or all of the above. You'd expect to see the first free market signals on climate change from the property insurance industry. If it was mere corporate greed major insurers wouldn't be walking away from billions of premium dollars. Last year, an insurance industry association publicly issued a recommendation that its members should measure and disclose climate change risk. Yet another unmistakable signal that the dismal science matters most to acceptance of climate change solutions.

Data sources: NOAA, CIA World Factbook, TheEconomist; UN; US Census Bureau

UPDATE (July 5, 2010) - The New york Times finally gets a clue. This article says "...even as Beijing imposes the world’s most rigorous national energy campaign, the effort is being overwhelmed by the billionfold demands of Chinese consumers". Even though TheRaven predicted growth in global consumer demand would outrun the transition from carbon-based energy, The Times projection of China's CO2 output is shocking.
UPDATE (August 5, 2010) - the New York Times gets another clue with tolerable reporting on political stability, fast growth and emergence of a consumer society in the worlds 4th largest country and 3rd largest democracy. Pay no heed to descriptions of Indonesia as a "Muslim country". Indonesia is a pluralist democracy in which religion plays a similar role to American Christianity. THe artcile deosn't mention climate change but you can connect the dots.

Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.

Governor McDonnell’s recent proclamation of Virginia’s Confederate History Month, sans slavery, was an immediate and revealing reversal from the centrist path of his campaign. While the former governor properly chose to excoriate McDonnell for his law school thesis, McDonnell sought cover by distancing himself from far right extremists. It worked. McDonnell’s law degree from Regent University should spark this question: what is Regent University? This is what Regent says about itself: "Regent University is a leading center of Christian thought and action. Driven by our commitment to global influence from a biblical perspective..."

"Biblical perspective" = huge red flag.

Peruse the Regent web site and you'll see John Ashcroft's smiling face. John was the picture of well-balanced Christian virtues as the nation's AG and he’s now on Regent’s faculty. Review the list of 17 undergraduate programs and you'll see a fairly vanilla list, albeit with strong commercial orientation (Animation; Cinema/TV). The tip-off is academic bias at the program level. There are three thought cleansing programs (Bible & Theological; Ministry; Religious) but no science programs. No biology, geology, nothing. Regent’s Chancellor & President is none other than Pat (those Haitian devils did it to themselves) Robertson. What are the odds of a Creationist mindset residing at Regent?

McDonnell's choice of Regent was made well into a business career. He earned a MBA from Boston University in 1980. He's not organically stupid, why Regent for his law degree? His 1989 thesis (available here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/d...) provides a boatload of frightening clues. Regent was McDonnell’s political springboard.

Media attention on McDonnell’s thesis was drawn to hot button words. In typical fashion, the media hit a few symptoms and missed the underlying disease. McDonnell was 35 years old when he wrote it; a grown man, certainly not some wild-eyed undergraduate. This is crucial context. A 93-page document penned in 1989 would otherwise be too easy to dismiss as long ago and far away, which is how McDonnell's gubernatorial campaign characterized it. The thesis isn't revealing so much as it is horrifying. It’s a theocratic rant from start to finish, a worldview that, regarding the relationship of the individual to the state, is closer to a Taliban view than to, for example, President Obama’s. A few selections are presented below, with translation for readers who might not fully appreciate McDonnell’s theocratic lunacy:

Very first sentence, abstract: "The traditional family is the cornerstone upon which western civilization has been built...." (Translation: if you fall outside my definition of traditional family, you are outside the principles of civilization, as I define them.)

Page 4 - "There is nothing so devastating to the family as divorce" (Translation: the subjugation and brutalization of women is a fine price to pay to preserve my narrow and historically flawed definition of the family).

Page 6 - He blames trends in delayed marriage and married couples having fewer children in part on "the self-centeredness of modern individualism". (Translation: women who pursue a profession instead of having children are evil whores).

Page 6 - He observes that children educated in public schools are "exposed" to textbooks that are "increasingly oriented to humanist values and a secular philosophy", followed by "contemporaneous purging of religious influence in the public schools has impaired the development of healthy family members". (Translation: if the Taliban would bathe more frequently, I'd invite them over for barbecue!)

Page 9 - (critiquing past Supreme Court decisions) "...the perverted notion of liberty that each individual should be able to live out his sexual life in any way he chooses without inference from the state." (Translation: anyone living outside my definition of the family, regardless of their sexual orientation, will be subject to state control over the most intimate aspects of their lives).

Page 11 - (example of frequent weasel words & phrases) "...unlike many other countries, the United States has no official national family policy." (Translation: I'm too lazy to do genuine research and figure out that "official national family policy" featured prominently in Nazi Germany).

Page 12 - he links America's founding documents, and founders, to "Judeo-Christian heritage" in which "the Creator is a God of order and authority, not chaos and autonomy". (Translation: John Calvin speaks from the grave and he won't shut the f*** up!).

Page 15 - (2nd paragraph) - too loopy to condense here but it expresses a theocratic Christian view of the individual's role in society. Families are needed to "inculcate religious values" and "glorifying God" helps "produce good citizens for the body politic". (Translation: as Hitchens so adroitly points out, since God created the universe, she doesn't need our glorification. God knows she's got game. God wants humans to glorify other humans, therefore, McDonnell is really pissing God off and she might, if we are very lucky, nudge an asteroid in his direction).

Contradictions - there's a pattern of complete contradiction, for example, page 19 describes the Republican party as committed to "equal rights for all". You could infer either that McDonnell is so drunk on Christ that he can't see such contradictions or, more ominously, that his definition of "all" treats non-Christians, single women, people in alternative lifestyles, etc., as if such individuals simply didn't exist. Considering how he conflates teenage pregnancy and adult single women with children as the same problem, demographic subsets with proportionately greater numbers of the latter should be especially wary, if not terrified. His solution to teen pregnancy and other social ills, as he defines them, lies only in religiosity and rigid state control. Orwell couldn't conjure up a more frightening view.

Please download and read the document. Form your own opinions of what appears to be part Republican homage, part Christianist battle-plan and mostly an argument for psychoactive medication. It is not "inquiry", as McDonnell claims and it certainly purveys lies regarding the intentions of America’s founders. McDonnell evidences no appreciation of America as a secular republic in his law school thesis.

Conclusion: relative to truth, personal responsibility and cynical manipulation of public opinion, McDonnell is not fundamentally different from Jimmy Swaggert, whose nationally televised crocodile tears saved his tax-free cash flow from the promiscuity and "fornication" that McDonnell cites as forces leading the decline of American society. While McDonnell's thesis seeks to paint him as a modern saint the odds are greater that he is, in fact, the f****** devil.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Northern Nitwit Speaks

Cory Booker for President, 2020

Fourteen months before Newark, NJ saw its first homicide-free month in the living memory of most of its citizens, a newspaper decoded the driving force behind what has become the remarkable turnaround of one of America's most compromised cities. It's the kind of everyday reporting we see with growing infrequency. The name of this newspaper says as much about Cory Booker's growing reputation as it provides unwitting commentary on the sad state of American journalism: it's The Guardian.

Here's the the piece: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/feb/08/democrats

This was no surprise to TheRaven, who routinely visited The Guardian during the last Presidential campaign for clear-eyed commentary. TheRaven sees a gubernatorial term in Mr. Booker's future, followed by a run for President in 2020. Mr. Booker recently gained a bit of notoriety for his smack-down of Conan O'Brien, after the former talk show host took a late night shot at Newark's healthcare situation. Mr. Booker's video rejoinder is simply priceless. They eventually made up and Conan donated to Newark's cause. Shades of pro wrestling, where everyone wins and in this case, it was all in good fun. Mr. Booker's background answers an increasingly nagging question: who in the current political landscape could possibly equal Barack Obama?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Jill Lepore Acknowledges Pond Scum

TheRaven suspects that after a long Massachusetts winter, prize-winning historian and Harvard professor Jill Lepore has forgotten what pond scum looks like. It's kind of round and pasty, evidences lack of higher education, years of alcoholism & drug abuse, all of which is shaped by years of morning zoo radio. What makes Ms. Lepore's transgression especially egregious is her acknowledgment of ridiculously lucky pond scum:

Ms. Lepore's NewYorker blog post is admittedly tongue-in-cheek, but very high brow. She gently characterizes Glenn Beck as ridiculous and faintly amusing but doesn't provide the context of his audience. By addressing Beck's wackiness on its face ("Glenn Beck likes to give history lessons") without consideration of who follows this fool, Ms. Lepore implicitly caters to the twisted-Right's dismissal of people who know better as "elitists". By not considering Beck's audience, she implies that they can't be reached with reason.

That may be true, but TheRaven suggests that Ms. Lepore has a better shot than most historian/intellectuals. Ms. Lepore coauthored Blindspot, a well-crafted work of fiction published in 2008. Blindspot has strong cinematic qualities. Ms. Lepore proved that she can reach beyond ivy league academia and touch the common man. (that's somewhat funny if you've read Blindspot, otherwise, just go read it......there's some naughty bits!) God knows the Beck faithful love fiction. Perhaps truth disguised as fable could wean them off incoherent babble.

Here's a link to Ms. Lepore's Newyorker blog post: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2010/03/glenn-beck-eugenics-and-history.html#ixzz0k6Rm6G2n.

Sean Wilentz Strikes Back

Sean Wilentz literally wrote the book on early American democracy. His 2005 work, The Rise of American Democracy won the Bancroft Prize and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Wilentz' pedigree is immediately off-putting to the Risible Class: Yale, Columbia & Oxford, and he teaches at Princeton. The motley group of pundits and politicians who kowtow to evangelical nonsense and confuse random sound bites for legitimate argument dismiss scholars like Wilentz as elitist eastern liberals.

The Risible Class acquires power with twisted appeals to credulous voters. Their power base is white, mostly uneducated and largely fundamentalist/evangelical. People who accept the bible as literal truth are very easy to control. Proof lies in three decades of Republican use of so-called "values" to beguile the white working class into voting against its own interests. Drop a few code words, like "eastern liberal" and legitimate debate can be preempted by superstition. You don't even need complete sentences, let alone a paragraph or two. If Glenn Beck is any indication, the Republican base can be manipulated with incoherent babble.

Wilentz also writes for The New Republic and other media outlets. In the context of long-held views of consequential presidents, Wilentz' stand on Grant is fairly brave. He recently published a vigorous defense of Grant in the New York Times. The first sentence in his New Republic review of U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth begins thus: No great American has suffered more cruelly and undeservedly at the hands of historians than Ulysses S. Grant. In historical matters, Wilentz is not a stereotypical eastern liberal. That is not to say that the Risible Class will not continue to hold him in contempt as it was Grant who nullified the Klu Klux Klan.

TheRaven also notes that Jill Lepore, no lightweight among prize-winning, ivy-league historians, gave Wilentz a fairly wide berth in her NewYorker review of
The Rise of American Democracy. With Wilentz established as a genuinely fair & balanced expert, we turn to the most execrable item on the "modern" Republican agenda.


That word should inspire anger, disgust, loathing and fear. In a constitutional context, nullification is the worst possible heresy. The notion that states can choose which Federal laws they will abide by was born in John Calhoun's fevered defense of slavery. Nullification is political rabies. Calhoun's nullification movement was smacked down by Andrew Jackson, yet it would not die. The plague returned in the 1850s but the Civil War only sent it into hibernation.
Racial segregation was rabidly defended in the 1950s and now that (surprise!) America has an African-American President, slavering nullification proselytizers lunged for the bully pulpit once again. Wilentz' nullifer smack down can be found here: http: //www.tnr.com/article/politics/the-essence-anarchy?page=0,1

When state legislators threaten to disobey Federal law they mimic long-dead slave owners and cynically abuse the credulous. Legislators in Georgia, Oklahoma and other miscreant states fail the first test of their convictions: comparison to the most famous southern icon (who didn't commit treason).
Andrew Jackson was a borderlands descendant, a self-made man, a slave-owner, a leader, a southern gentleman and a genuine tough-guy. He was a product of his times, with a personal code of honor. It's difficult to see how acceptance of slavery and a reliable sense of right and wrong could live in the same man but the 1820s were long ago in a cultural context. Slavery wasn't completely abolished in New York until 1827. The key to understanding the importance of Jackson's stand is comparison of what he had to gain versus what a southern gentleman President stood to lose from aggressive suppression of a pro-south political movement. The key point is that Jackson put country first in suppressing Calhoun's nullification movement.

Compare Jackson to our current crop of dissembling state legislators. That they dishonor themselves is without question. They also dishonor the men and women who gave their lives over the 223 year defense of The Constitution. Consider those Americans who currently defend our interests overseas. These "modern" nullifiers dishonor the very people they supposedly represent. Their deceitful use of the credulous is shameful, disgraceful and absolutely contrary to their obligations as American citizens and the oaths they swore to uphold the Constitution!

In a different time, their actions would be characterized with only one word.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Worse than we thought?

While recent economic news shows an improving employment picture, we've got a lot of ground to regain. The screen shot shown here was taken on March 27th. There are obvious issues regarding statistical validity and question bias. Even though 46,243 responses should otherwise provide a reliable sample, possible sampling bias, e.g., people who are partial to CNN or Fortune magazine, is unquantified. Question bias is probably the bigger issue. Respondents are asked to characterize themselves as either employed or unemployed. There's no middle option for the underemployed and, unfortunately, millions of people fall into that category. We have no way of knowing how underemployed people answered this poll.

That said, it is both deeply disturbing and somewhat illuminating to see a 19% unemployment rate reported for the United States (note the assumption on absence of regional bias). The gap between government measurement and economic reality might be wider than most people realize. The out-sized downturn in consumer demand seen at the outset could perhaps be explained by a fall in employment that was faster and deeper than could be measured with existing techniques. But who were the people who lost jobs that (perhaps) no one counted?

We know that the freelance workforce grew to 20 million people (15% of the non-farm workforce) before the crisis. It's possible that this group was both under-counted in good times and disproportionately whacked in the collapse, which might account for higher real unemployment. There are no constraints on "firing" independent workers - no legal meetings, no wrangling over announcements that claim "people are our greatest asset" while thousands are tossed out, no press releases, no severance pay and (of course) no extended health benefits. They're just (economically) terminated. For the freelancer, such situation is a problem only when all existing and prospective clients (employers) move in the same direction. What would motivate all employers to, in effect, conduct a national mass-firing of freelancers? How about the near-failure of the global finance system and wholesale collapse of business credit.

Because freelancers aren't paid through payroll systems (they're paid like other suppliers, via accounts payable), the oft-cited payroll surveys (such as ADP's) are useless for quantifying the economic importance of the independent workforce. A distinction must be made between the employees of temp agencies (who are in reported payroll numbers) and independent freelancers. Given the number of independent workers not paid through a payroll system, millions people could lose their livelihoods overnight (and likely did) without anyone knowing.

There was minimal reporting on the magnitude of consumer demand contraction, which economists viewed as unprecedented in context of the reported unemployment rate. TheRaven hasn't found cogent analysis of the independent workforce' role in the Great Recession. It seems that an immediate and enormous contraction in freelancer employment, in an economy that had grown significantly more dependent on the independent workforce, would explain the seemingly out-sized contraction in consumer demand that (for example) pushed both GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy.

TheRaven offers a small argument that poll results support what is otherwise supposition. The independent workforce skews towards educated people who generally eschew Fox News for CNN or MSNBC. Fortune magazine is read by college graduates. It's possible that such sample bias actually provides insight here, in that the reported 19% rate was influenced a disproportionate share of independent workers.

Glenn Beck's Tea Party

 Click to see full-size image

What kind of people follow a babbling high school graduate, an alcoholic Mormon convert with a penchant for illegal drugs, a man who washed out of morning zoo radio only to stumble into a talk-radio lottery ticket served up by rapacious corporate greed. Glenn Beck is a tool wielded by a thug named Roger Ailes, who is Rupert Murdock's lackey. What does that make the Beck faithful? People who either don't mind or aren't cognizant of their own exploitation.

What do you call such people?


Once upon a time, a great empire sported a rich senatorial class. They enjoyed power and position over hundreds of years. The Senators were so steeped in power as privilege that even minor political setbacks sparked their unreasoning petulance. If the chosen ruler sought to help the populace such that their self-perceived standing was diminished, they would cynically appeal to the masses to act against their own self interest. It usually worked. The problem was that successive appeals to mob rule weakened the empire from within. Increasing internal strife led to factional conflict, larger armies, increased taxation and finally to fateful employment of Germanic mercenaries. The Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410ad were led by Alaric I, whose Roman employment dated back to 394. (He was also Christian)

Exactly 1,600 years later, the greatest nation in human history is burdened with a disproportionately rich Republican rabble who suffer daily humiliation from a transcendent American leader. The President goes out of his way not to punish Republican failings, yet they make it unavoidable. He's no Caesar, but a strong case could be made for Cicero. His populism leaves them looking like shy school boys at an 8th grade dance. His deft diplomatic touch inspires global appreciation and - after less than 15 months in office - is bringing ardent foes like Russia under the big tent of shared interests and mutual opportunities. The President met dozens of Republicans in open debate and, unaided by notes or support staff, coolly dismissed their nonsensical view of healthcare reform as a threat to freedom. (As if living your life at the mercy of a gigantic corporation is anything but a modern form of slavery).

The President's determination to rectify decades of corporate cruelty meted out to loyal, hard-working Americans who, ravaged by disease, must contend with armies of insurance industry clerks, was far more than a giant step for social equality. The President knows what rich Republican Senators also know: lack of reliable health coverage has damaged America's ability to create new jobs. Republicans beat the cost side of the drum and even on that score, they're wrong. They know that new American jobs are created by small business, not by the large corporations that fill their coffers.

The strong economic disincentives for entrepreneurial risk-taking created by our broken healthcare finance system were completely overlooked amidst Republican rancor. People who otherwise would take a chance on a promising new job remain tethered to unsatisfying jobs by the risk of losing family health benefits. The steep decline in American workforce mobility - which in 2009 hit the lowest level seen since WW2 - has been erroneously blamed on the housing crisis. Economists point to workforce mobility as a leading contributor to America's economic superiority over Europe. When workers aren't mobile, nations squander their human capital.

The decline in American workforce mobility was exacerbated by Wall Street's recent follies but it extends back over decades and parallels three heretofore inexorable trends: (1) increasing market control in the hands of a fewer number of health insurers; (2) exploding cost of health care; (3) changes in bankruptcy laws that magnified the potential financial damage of uninsured health crises. You can argue the merits of bankruptcy reform (and TheRaven was appalled at the level of carefree abuse in the old system). However, that these trends increased systemic risk for all but young, 100% healthy & single entrepreneurs and their prospective employees is not up for debate.

The President simply flipped the drum over and beat the other side. It's all about the revenue side of the ledger. Healthcare reform frees the talents and energy of millions of entrepreneurs and their prospective employees, which will in turn fuel a new economic boom. The Republican response to legislative defeat was to dust off the Roman playbook and call for mob rule. In the end, even the dumbest among us might see a glimmer of light. Midterm elections might be the point when even the uneducated realize that our Roman Moment benefited no one. Even craven Republican wealth is imperiled by an economy held hostage by Aetna, BCBC, Humana, Cigna, UnitedHealthcare, et al.

We can only hope that the mob finally acts in its own best interests.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sandra Bullock, dumbass

Imagine waking up to this sight. Everybody's predictable comedienne got all inky five years ago, when she tied the knot with 'biker outlaw', mini-mogul Jesse James. That's his back. You'd think with a 'tat that big he'd have more ambition, as in, more zeroes. Perhaps no one told him they come in bigger sizes. His ex-wife surely never saw anything bigger than a $20.

Lives have a way of moving in patterns. Perhaps Sandra, in her arrogant need to domesticate one of the last known wild males, might have considered the ex-wife. After all, obsessing about ex-wives is a favorite past time of single women over 40. Speaking of which, here she is....
She's definitely the total package. Curious though, her bio says she's been doing porn for 23 years. Does that mean she did porn while married to Jesse? What was that dinner table conversation like? You know, "How was your day, dear....". Getting back to our manly outlaw, college dropout & former body guard, it turns out that he's got a soft side. Yup, Jesse the Clown has got a special act for lucky birthday boys and birthday girls!

That's so cute! No wonder Sandra fell for him. Who doesn't love a cuddly, bike-building, Monster Garage mastering, celebrity apprentice Nazi? Yeah, well the outlaw cred is a little threadbare. Nazi-boy got bitch-slapped by the California Air Resources Board. Not exactly like going up against Elliott Ness, is it?

Have you noticed the pattern yet? People tend to get predictable after 40 years. Here's a hint: "Janine" is (or was) tattood on the back of Jesse's hand. Wonder if Sandra noticed that on their first date. TheRaven would have loved to hear that bit of romantic patter. Give up? Perhaps this picture will flesh it out for you.

Poor Sandra.

I guess that Matthew McConaughey and his drinking problem were what, too normal? What does fame, fortune and an Oscar add up to? Just another woman making ordinarily bad choices. Will she keep him?

TheRaven sees a sadly ironic outcome. Sandra's audience is full of women who've made equally stupid choices. She'll become another pathetically sympathetic figure. Her amazing lack of talent will be extended into another 10 or 20 predictably lame movies (Blindside was an exception only because of Michael Lewis) and millions of innocent husbands and boyfriends will be dragged off to see them, like lambs to slaughter, paying penance for the bad choice of one woman!

Meanwhile, Matthew can't stop laughing, or making babies with his Brazilian, super model girlfriend....